The Propaganda State

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In
1987, the Australian sociologist Alex Carey, a second Orwell in
his prophesies, wrote Managing Public Opinion: The Corporate
Offensive. He described how in the United States “great progress
[had been] made towards the ideal of a propaganda-managed democracy,"
whose principal aim was to identify a rapacious business state “with
every cherished human value." The power and meaning of true
democracy, of the franchise itself, would be “transferred” to the
propaganda of advertising, public relations and corporate-run news.
This “model of ideological control," he predicted, would be
adopted by other countries, such as Britain.

To
many who work conscientiously in the media in developed societies,
this will sound alarmist; it is not like that in Britain, they will
say. Ask them about censorship by omission or the promotion of business
ideology and war propaganda as news, a promotion both subtle and
crude, and their defensive response will be that no one ever instructed
them to follow any line: no one ever said not to question the Prime
Minister about the horror he had helped to inflict on Iraq: his
epic criminality. “Blair always enjoys his interviews with Paxo,”
says Roger Mosey, the head of BBC Television News, without a hint
of irony.

Blair
should enjoy them; he is always spared the imperious bombast of
Jeremy Paxman, the BBC’s political “interrogator," whose work is
now a pastiche and kept mostly for official demons. “Watch George
Galloway clash with Jeremy Paxman,” says the BBC News homepage like
a circus barker. Once under the big top of the BBC’s Newsnight you
get the usual set-up: a nonsensical question about whether or not
Galloway, who, representing the anti-war party Respect, defeated
the Labour member of a safe seat in east London, was “proud of having
got rid of one of the few black women in parliament," followed by
mockery of the very idea that his opponent, an unabashed Blairite
warmonger, should account for the deaths of tens of thousands of
innocent people.

Seven
years ago, when Denis Halliday, one of the United Nations’ most
respected humanitarian aid directors, resigned from his post in
Iraq in protest at the Anglo-American-led embargo, calling it “an
act of genocide," he was given the Paxo treatment. “Aren’t you just
an apologist for Saddam Hussein?” he was mock-asked. The following
year, Unicef revealed that the embargo had killed half a million
Iraqi children. As for East Timor, a triumph of the British arms
trade and Robin Cook’s “ethical” foreign policy, the presence of
British Hawk jets was “not proved," declared Paxo, parroting a Foreign
Office lie. (A few months later, Cook came clean.) Today, napalm
is used in Iraq, but the armed forces minister is allowed to pretend
that it isn’t. Israel’s weapons of mass destruction are “dangerous
in the extreme," says the former head of the US Strategic Command,
but that is a permanent taboo.

In
the London Guardian of 9 May, famous journalists and their
executives were asked to reflect on the election campaign. Almost
all agreed that it had been “boring” and “lacked passion” and “never
really caught fire." Mosey complained that “it was difficult
to reach out to people who are disengaged.” Again, irony was absent,
as if the BBC’s obsequiousness to the “consensus of propaganda,"
as Alex Carey called it, had nothing to do with people’s disengagement
or with the duty of journalists to engage the public, let alone
tell them things they had a right to know.

It
is this right-to-know that is being lost behind a wilful illusion.
Since the cry “freedom of the press” was first heard roughly 500
years ago, when Wynkyn de Worde set up Caxton’s printing press in
the yard of St Bride’s Church, off Fleet Street in London, there
has never been more information or media in the “mainstream," yet
most of it is now repetitive and profoundly ideological: captive
of the insidious system Carey described.

Omission
is how it principally works. Between 1—15 April, the Media
Tenor Institute analysed the content of television evening news.
Foreign politics, including Iraq, accounted for less than two per
cent. Search the post-election comments of the most important people
in journalism for anything about the greatest political scandal
in memory — the unprovoked bloodbath in Iraq — and you will find
nothing. The Goldsmith affair, in which the Attorney General advice
to Blair that the invasion was illegal, was an aberration forced
onto the election agenda not by a journalist but by an insider;
and no connection was then made with the suffering and grief in
Iraq.

In
the middle of the election campaign, Dr. Les Roberts gave a special
lecture at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London.
It was all but ignored. Yet this is the extraordinary man who led
an American-Iraqi research team in the first comprehensive investigation
of civilian deaths in Iraq. Published in the Lancet, the most highly
regarded medical journal in the world with the tightest peer-review
procedures, the study found that “at least” 100,000 civilians had
died violently, the great majority of them at the hands of the “coalition”:
women, children, the elderly. He also described how American military
doctors had found that 14 per cent of soldiers and 28 per cent of
marines had killed a civilian: a huge, unreported massacre.

This
great crime, together with the destruction of the city of Fallujah
and the 40 known victims of torture and unlawful killings at the
hands of the British army, and the biggest demonstration by Iraqis
demanding the invaders get out, was not allowed to intrude on a
campaign that “never really caught fire." The airbrushing requires
no conspiracy. “The thought,” wrote Arthur Miller, “that the state
has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable,
and so the evidence has to be internally denied.”

In
its ideological crusade, the Blair regime has bombed and killed
and abused human rights directly or by proxy, from Iraq to Colombia,
from tsunami-stricken Aceh to the 14 most impoverished countries
in Africa where the sale of British weapons have fanned internal
conflict. When I asked a television executive why none of this was
glimpsed in the election “coverage," he seemed nonplussed. “It was
not relevant to the news,” he said. What is relevant in the wake
of the election is a propaganda consensus promoting the "potential
greatness" of the Chancellor (Treasurer) Gordon Brown, as the
greatness of the now embarrassing Blair was once promoted. (“My
God, he will be a hard act to follow. (My God, Labour will miss
him when he has gone,” wrote Blair’s most devoted promoter, Martin
Kettle, in the Guardian, skipping over his crimes.)

That
Brown is the same ideologue as Blair is of no concern, neither is
his commitment, not to ending poverty in the world, but to the rehabilitation
of imperialism. “We should be proud… of the empire,” he said last
September. “The days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial
history are over,” he told the Daily Mail. These views touch the
nostalgic heart of the British establishment, which, under Thatcher
and Blair, has recovered from its long disorientation after Hitler
gave all imperial plunderers a bad name. This and the appeasement
of British imperialists is rarely mentioned in the endless anniversaries
of the Second World War, whose triumphalism in politics and popular
culture has bred imperial wars, like Iraq.

Thus,
Blair’s foreign policy adviser Robert Cooper caused little controversy
when he wrote a pamphlet calling for “a new kind of imperialism,
one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan views."
This is conquest redefined as liberation, evoking the same moral
claims that were not questioned until Hitler. “Imperialism and the
global expansion of the western powers," wrote Frank Furedi
in The New Ideology of Imperialism, "were represented in unambiguously
positive terms as a major contributor to human civilisation.” That
imperialism was and is racist, violent and the cause of suffering
across the world — witness the ruthless expulsion of the people
of Diego Garcia as recent as the 1970s — is “not relevant to
the news." Observe instead the BBC swoon at Gordon Brown’s
19th-century speeches about ending African poverty on condition
that business can exploit and arm Africa’s poorest.

All
this chimes in Washington, where Bush’s drivel of “democracy and
liberty on the march” is swallowed by leading journalists on both
sides of the Atlantic. A vintage imperialist campaign is under way
against strategic and resource-rich Arab nations: indeed, against
all Muslim peoples. It is the “clash of civilisations” of Samuel
Huntington’s delusions. The Arabs being Semites, it is one of the
west’s greatest anti-Semitic crusades.

That,
you might say, is well discussed. Perhaps. What is not discussed
is a worldwide threat similar to that of Germany in the 1930s: certainly
the greatest threat in the lifetime of most people. This is not
news. Consider the unreported demise of the “war on terror." In
his inaugural speech in January, Bush pointedly said not a word
about that which he had made his signature. No terrorism. No Osama.
No Iraq. No axis of evil. Instead, he warned that America’s new
targets were those living in "whole regions of the world"
which “simmer in resentment and tyranny” and where “violence will
gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended
powers, and raise a mortal threat.”

The
monumental paranoia is almost beside the point. Bush was lowering
the threshold. The American military can go anywhere, attack anything,
use any kind of weapon in pursuit of his latest, most dangerous
illusion: the “simmering resentment” and the “gathering violence.”
Unreported is the military coup that has taken place in America;
the Pentagon and its civilian militarists now control “policy."
Diplomacy is “finished… dead," as one of them put it. Andrew
Bacevich, soldier, conservative and professor of American military
strategy at Boston University, says that Bush has “committed the
United States to waging an open-ended war on a global scale."

Britain,
with its profound understanding of imperialism, is a pioneer of
this new danger. In 1998, the Blair government’s Strategic Defence
Review stated that the country’s military priority would be “force
projection” and that “in the post-cold war world we must be prepared
to go the crisis rather than have the crisis come to us." In 2002,
Geoff Hoon became the first defence secretary to declare that British
nuclear weapons could be used against non-nuclear nations. In December
2003, a defence white paper, Delivering Security in a Changing World,
called for “expeditionary operations” in “a range of environments
across the world." Military force was no longer “a separate element
in crisis resolution." Almost a third of public spending on research
now goes to the military: far more than is spent on the National
Health Service.

On
6 August, it will be the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing
of Hiroshima which, with the destruction of Nagasaki, stands as
one of the greatest crimes. There is now a nuclear renaissance,
led by the nuclear “haves," with America and Britain upgrading
their “battlefield” nuclear weapons. The very real danger is, or
should be clear to all of us. The Guardian says Blair, having
won his “historic” third term, ought to be “humble." It is
truly humbling that only 20 per cent of eligible voters voted for
him, the lowest figure in modern times, and that he has no true
mandate. No, it is journalists who ought to be humble and do their
job.

May
17, 2005

John
Pilger
was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape next month. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.

©
John Pilger 2005

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Pilger Archives

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